Church Times published a very helpful guide to the Anglican Covenant just over a week ago. It is now available to non-subscribers on the Web and has been added to the Resources page of the No Anglican Covenant Web site here.
The guide is a 12-page PDF file containing both pro and con essays about the Covenant. It also includes the text of the Covenant, along with thoughtful (and thought-provoking) annotations. It begins with an introductory essay titled “The Covenant: gift or shackle?” which explains the pictures of ribbons and bows, on one hand, and chains, on the other, that decorate the document. The essay concludes with this:
Ultimately, its [the Covenant’s] effect on the Communion cannot be known in advance. To vote in its favour, therefore, is to step into the dark. Such is the present state of the Communion, however, that to vote against it might well lead Anglicans into similar obscurity.This sets the tone for a document that ultimately leaves decisions about the Covenant to the reader.
The first essay, by Pat Ashworth, “Through uncharted waters with Dr Williams at the helm,” is something of a history of the Covenant from the vantage point of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In “An alternative to Nigeria v. the United States,” Bishop Gregory Cameron offers a somewhat rosy picture of the Covenant, suggesting that it represents a typical Anglican compromise:
Anglicanism historically seeks a via media, even if the extremes and the via media have often been reinterpreted. The Covenant is the latest in a long line of documents articulating central ground. It will not end arguments, but it does set out the grounds for continuing communion: core affirmations, and a coherent account of our life in Communion. Early indications are that, in fact, when provinces weigh the arguments, they can affirm the Covenant’s balance of autonomy and interdependence.The Rev. Marilyn McCord, in “Born of outrage, this is just confusion,” also reviews events that led the Communion to where it is now, and she finds that history something of a muddle:
Will it strengthen the Instruments of Communion to give the Anglican Communion more institutional coherence, or will the Communion go back to being a fellowship group with co-operative ventures? How can we — why should we — sign a document when we cannot tell what it means?Dr. Norman Doe returns to the theme taken up by Bishop Cameron, that the Covenant represents a rational middle way. His essay is “Not red nor green: amber is the Anglican colour.” After asserting that the Covenant does not embody a “red-light” model in which the Communion limits the freedom of provinces nor a “green-light” model in which provinces are unconstrained by the Communion, he says
Rather, the Covenant sees partnership between the Communion (the family) and each autonomous Church as the primary manifestation of Anglicanism, one that protects the autonomy of the province (its legal freedom), subject to the competence of the Communion (through its instruments), to guide in a limited field of highly contentious matters of common concern (the “amber-light” model). This is the Anglican way.Next, the Rev. Canon Simon Killwick weighs in with his essay “We must work internationally.” He is in no hurry to settle anything, being more concerned with how the Church goes about making decisions:
Truth and unity go hand in hand in the Christian tradition: we cannot discern truth in isolation from the rest of the Church. Because the Church is essentially international, the discernment of Christian truth can take place only on an international basis. The Anglican Covenant embodies this insight, and commits provinces to listening to each other, and to the wider Church, in the discernment of truth.The reward for the most arresting image goes to Dr. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham. His contribution is the essay “A useful compendium, but lose the chocolate teapot.” Wilson finds the first three sections of the Covenant “clearly express a reformed Catholic view.” But he goes on to say
The procedural fourth section is a chocolate teapot. Do with it what you will, but do not expect it to hold boiling water. I would detach it from the useful stuff as quietly and as tactfully as possible. Lawyers say that this cannot be done, but I seriously question whether a civilisation capable of conquering space can really be that incapable.The next essay, “It cannot stop the unravelling,” comes from the Rt. Rev. John Akao, who offers an African view on the Covenant. He complains that African voices have not been listened to. This paragraph perhaps best captures his frustration:
The present Covenant distracts the orthodox Anglican voices from the main issues currently in contention in the Communion. It seeks surreptitiously to engender perpetual talking, and dissipation of valuable time, energy, and human and material resources in endless meetings, which have so far led nowhere, while in the mean time the erroneous teaching and practices are being consolidated. African voices are aligned with the voices of GAFCON, the Global South, and the All Africa Bishops’ Conference.The final essay in the Church Times guide comes from the Ven.Glynn Cardy. It’s title is “We’re too independent for this.” Cardy is from New Zealand, whose church, in comparison to other Anglican churches, might be seen as idiosyncratic. Cardy predicts that his church will not adopt the Covenant. Being a small, culturally diverse church, it has had to be very innovative to survive. He fears, among other things, that the Covenant will not be encouraging to innovation. He clearly does not see the need for the uniformity desired by no many Covenant proponents:
Lastly, it will be difficult to win support for the Anglican Covenant in New Zealand, because it is trying to impose a form of centralism upon a Church that is increasingly pluralistic. A Christ-centred world is not one where everyone thinks similarly, or agrees, but one where we celebrate that they do not. To impose sanctions on those who differ is to close our ears to what we may need to hear.Although “The Anglican Covenant: a Church Times guide” is not the typical Anglican study guide that asks questions to be answered and discussed, it is perhaps ideal for any group seriously interested in evaluating the wisdom of adopting the Anglican Covenant.